An herb is a plant, or the leaf of a plant, used by people for some purpose. In other words, it's an herb if you know what it is and what it's good for, otherwise it's just a plant, or even a weed. "Herb" refers to the leafy part of a plant; "spice" usually means seeds or bark that can be ground up into a powder.

Fresh herbs are great. You can rub them between your fingers and then smell the bruised leaves to discover their distinctive fragrances, and you can add them to your food by the handful. Most dried herbs lose their potency after a few months, so you should always check your herbs before you use them -- give them a sniff. If they're smelling stale or have no discernable fragrance, throw them out.

Most health food stores in the USA have dried herbs (both cooking and medicinal) in bulk, generally Frontier brand, which is pretty good. This is the best way to buy them. The supermarket will charge you an enormous amount of money for ancient, denatured, prepackaged herbs that aren't worth using.

Common uses and their herbs

I know this is only a partial listing. Please let me know if you'd like me to add anything that's missing.

Herbs for smoking

Herbs for food

Herbs for treating medical conditions

Herbs for making tea

Herbs for imparting fragrance

"Poison is in everything and no thing is without poison. It is the dosage that makes it either a poison or a remedy."2


1See Paracelsus; A 16th century Swiss physician who described the role of herbs in medicine as such.
2Merry S. Baum, Herbs: The Roots of Medicine, HealthState, 21st Century Medicines, Volume 9:1, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey, Winter/Spring 2001.

American slang for a square, a nerd, a dork, a mooncalf, a wheyface. Pronounced with the h vocalized. Rarely used as a verb (in much the same way as "fool"): Are you herbin' me? Most commonly heard among school children of the north eastern U.S., who are attempting to be fly gangstas. "Herb" is also slang for "marijuana", but its etymology probably lies in the common name "Herbert". Herbert is a pretty nerdy name, and is certainly not as cool as Rocky or Butch. Also, the h in Herbert is vocalized, just as in the insult "herb". Common American usage is to pronounce "herb" as erb.

While "herb" means "person who isn't very cool at all", it's rarely directed at those outside the user's social circle. That loser kid your cousin is dating is a herb; the smelly boy who you would never, ever talk to is a freak. "Herb" implies that you're in the same group as the person you're insulting, or at least know the same people. It's not a strong insult, often used jokingly, though it carries a connotation of disparagement. Not quite disgust, not an indictment of sexual immorality, "herb" is used in the similar situations as one would playfully say "dork".

The origins of "herb" are very mysterious. It appears to have first seen use in the early or mid-1990's, and it has not spread much beyond the Atlantic seaboard. Sid passed me this link: Since I was one year old in 1985, I can't vouch for Herb the Nerd's popularity as a Burger King mascot, but I guess it makes sense.

Herb [OE. herbe, erbe, OF. herbe, erbe, F. herbe, L. herba; perh. akin to Gr. φορβη phorbê food, pasture, φερβειν pherbein to feed.]


A plant whose stem does not become woody and permanent, but dies, at least down to the ground, after flowering.

⇒ Annual herbs live but one season; biennial herbs flower the second season, and then die; perennial herbs produce new stems year after year.


Grass; herbage.

And flocks Grazing the tender herb. Milton.

Herb bennet. Bot. See Bennet. -- Herb Christopher Bot., an herb (Actaea spicata), whose root is used in nervous diseases; the baneberry. The name is occasionally given to other plants, as the royal fern, the wood betony, etc. -- Herb Gerard Bot., the goutweed; -- so called in honor of St. Gerard, who used to be invoked against the gout. Dr. Prior. -- Herb grace, ∨ Herb of grace. Bot. See Rue. -- Herb Margaret Bot., the daisy. See Marguerite. -- Herb Paris Bot., an Old World plant related to the trillium (Paris quadrifolia), commonly reputed poisonous. -- Herb Robert Bot., a species of Geranium (G. Robertianum.)


© Webster 1913.

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